Eclectic hats up for auction

She may not have had a hat for every day of the year, but local arts philanthropist Vesta Curry definitely had a few for every week.

In three decades as a patron of the Costa Mesa arts community, Curry accumulated a collection of more than 100 colorful, feathery, gem-studded and generally flamboyant head coverings. She wore them during her frequent trips to the Orange County Performing Arts Center for everything from volunteer work to catching an evening show.

“She was quite a legend,” said center President Terry Dwyer. “She was known by virtually everyone who got more involved in the center. They would see this woman and often be drawn to her because of these hats. These were not subtle hats.”

When Vesta died in September, at the age of 89, her son, Frank Curry, decided that it would best fit her wishes to auction 130 of her prized possessions and split the money between the two causes that she so ardently supported: the Pacific Symphony Orchestra and the Orange County Performing Arts Center.

Although Frank, a Newport Beach dentist, is not one to put himself in the limelight, he said it was always fun to take his mom out to dinner because of all of the attention she would garner.

It was a rare occasion on which some complete stranger didn’t come up to her and compliment her hat, Frank remembered.

“For the last 30 years her sole focus was the Orange County Performing Arts Center — that was where she was every day of the week,” he said, adding that he would have to call her before 8 a.m. or after 10 p.m. to catch her at home.

Growing up at a time when hats were fashionable, Vesta immediately sought them out when she started “becoming hair deficient” 25 or 30 years ago, as her son puts it. She bought many of them at department stores in Los Angeles, Frank said.

Uniqueness was clearly her most important criterion in selecting particular hats. The shapes of some of them make it hard to discern how they fit on a head without context and the colors range from hot pink to sky blue to parrot-colored (meaning all of the colors of a parrot in one hat). They will be auctioned at a luncheon at the Westin South Coast Plaza on April 22.

Vesta supported all types of activities at the center from Broadway musicals to solo recitals, but she was most fond of children’s programs and performances, Dwyer said. The proceeds will be earmarked for youth education programs put on by the Pacific Symphony and the Performing Arts Center.

Reporter ALAN BLANK may be reached at (714) 966-4623 or at